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TV Review | New HBO show depicts reality of modern gay life

Published: Friday, February 7, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 08:02

HBO’s new series “Looking,” which premiered Jan. 19, looks promising after its first three episodes. With a slow pace and likeable characters, “Looking” explores contemporary gay life in San Francisco. The show, which is filmed on location, echoes Lena Dunham’s unapologetic “Girls” (2012 - present) with a crude, sexual tone and uncensored material.

Critics were quick to draw comparisons between “Girls” and “Looking” as the show approached its January debut. The protagonist in “Looking” — educated, white, trying to take the next step personally and professionally — mirrors the protagonist in “Girls,” Hannah Horvath. Some critics have even called “Looking” the gay version of “Girls.” However, the creator of “Looking,” Michael Lannan, gently rejected the comparison in an interview with The Huffington Post: “We’re flattered to be compared to ‘Girls’ or other great shows that came out before us, but I think when people see this, it will be clear it’s something of its own.”

Certainly after its premiere, “Looking” has earned some independence. The show is low-key, easy-going and refreshing. The half-hour episodes are charming and storylines move effortlessly between the show’s three main characters. Jonathan Groff — who appeared in “Glee” (2009 — present) — leads this trio as Patrick, a sweet, awkward and unsuspecting videogame designer. His roommate, Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), is an aspiring artist juggling the trials and joys of monogamy. Dom (Murray Bartlett) completes the group as a 39-year-old waiter who fears the inevitable — turning 40.

With their aspirations, worries, flaws and the occasional ménage-á-trois, the three men are wonderfully unpredictable. For the most part, they are content with how they live, but they do each have their doubts. The first episodes introduce the characters by acquainting us with their problems — most of which center around love: finding it, recovering from it and dealing with it. The men aren’t flamboyant, funny or aggressive: they’re conflicted.

Together, the men navigate the ins and outs of gay life in San Francisco — dodging bad dates and exes while also seeking something new. It is through these searches for fulfillment, for happiness and for love that “Looking” earns its modest title.

The theme of sexuality never leaves the screen as the relations Patrick, Agust쬠and Dom have with other men range from awkward to sultry to comedic. Here’s where comparisons to “Girls” are in order: “Looking” does not hesitate in its raw and uninhibited portrayal of gay sexuality. The show tells the truth, as uncomfortable, beautiful and honest as it may be. But it does so quietly and calmly — while also bursting with rich color and vibrant scenes of San Francisco.

Peppered with occasional comedic moments, the show fosters energy typical of HBO’s repertoire. Though “Looking” is undeniably slow, its pace — along with its characters — reminds audiences that good TV doesn’t have to be fast or action-packed. “Looking” is accessible, honest and self-aware and does not fail to capture a refreshing view of gay reality. For the trio of men, everything is a bit out of reach and, as a result, the show is relatable and almost universal.

As Patrick, Agust쬠and Dom continue to mosey about the handsome neighborhoods of the Bay Area, “Looking” will hopefully continue to explore their lives at its own honest — and distinct — pace.

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